FORWARD-THINKING FORWARDERS: HOW TO MANAGE CUSTOMERS’ CHANGING NEEDS ALONG A CHANGING SUPPLY CHAIN
For the modern-day 3PL provider, managing expectations while successfully retaining customers goes well beyond cost savings and providing the fastest alternative to moving products. It did not take the pandemic to realize the consumer market continues to shift significantly, creating spikes at every angle from transport costs, sourcing, space, resource flexibility… and the list goes on.
The meaning of “competitive” is now determined by a 3PL provider’s agility and predictability in tandem with optimizing the flow of goods throughout the supply chain. The big kicker in the current market is that as costs continue to go up, the available labor pool becomes smaller. So, then, how can 3PL providers keep up with the competition while retaining their customer base and adding value? It starts with how you manage customer relationships. Many times, the biggest competition is not the opposing team; it is keeping up with the hit-and-miss market.
Andy Frommenwiler, vice president of Air Freight USA at Dachser, has compiled a list of the top three shifts his company’s customers are considering or implementing:
1. Alternative solutions to source their product. To that end, local sourcing has become more competitive and paired with unpredictable rising costs of transportation.
2. Customers are moving toward longer-term forecasting to allow for disruption and the lack of supply chain fluidity.
3. Taking advantage of space availability for customers with smaller orders.
“Market disruptions will continue, and it is imperative to properly plan now because it is clear there will be ongoing capacity challenges and other forms of disruption throughout the year,” Frommenwiler cautions.
In addition to piecing together the puzzle of transporting goods without breaking the bank and tarnishing the reputation, 3PL providers are laser-focused on retaining their customer bases. While the market is scrambling, customer retention is a critical element to remaining resilient and maintaining a competitive edge. The key here is not so much about what you can offer customers, but more so how you can extend stability and transparency.
“In today’s environment, it is crucial to maintain an initiative-taking approach and open dialogue with your customer,” advises Frommenwiler. “Informing customers of the current market situation, such as unstable pricing and space shortages, makes the customer aware of today’s challenges, which not only allows them to properly prepare but also highlights the importance of a strong, knowledgeable logistics partner.”
Always remember that the disruptions you are experiencing as a 3PL provider are almost always parallel to the challenges your customers are struggling to navigate. The value is how the 3PL provider not only provides support in solving these challenges, but also how much visibility is gained through the partnership.
“Very high demand with low supply, port congestion, trucker shortages, mounting detention and demurrage charges are just some examples of the challenges companies are faced with today,” Frommenwiler notes. “As the planning experts, it is our responsibility to not only identify the challenges, but also to provide alternative solutions such as LCL expedited service, standard LCL or air freight options.
“It is also critical that we insist on customer forecasts to facilitate better planning, booking, space allocation and superior utilization. It is important to gain trust and ensure the customer understands that, as their appointed forwarders, we are their partners and are not capitalizing on the situation by taking advantage and over-charging for our services.”
Another significant challenge in the current market is the labor shortage. Look at any industry, and you will find the need for workers. The same is true for players in the logistics arena–from 3PLs to customers, all are hurting from the labor shortage.
“The current labor shortage situation is particularly challenging and difficult to manage,” Frommenwiler concedes. “Ground handling companies, which are managing several airlines, are simply overwhelmed with the amount of cargo and limited warehouse space. Consequently, it takes days to break down cargo. These delays contribute to further disruptions throughout the supply chain.”
The role of a logistics provider is to understand these disruptions while providing solutions that benefit the customer. Demand will continue to increase, that is not changing. When you take on the challenges of the customer as a logistics provider, you create the opportunity to understand what your competitors are faced with. The more solutions you provide to your customer base, the more trust, reliability and increases to your bottom line you create. When you invest in your customer, you invest in your company.
“It is important for companies to start making proper investments now to position themselves for a successful future,” Frommenwiler says.
Dachser USA takes these investments to the next level when considering the needs of its customer base. In July 2020, the global logistics leader announced its new dedicated weekly Frankfurt-Chicago-Frankfurt flight service, connecting U.S. customers to the European market through a comprehensive land transport network from Frankfurt with rotations each weekend. The pandemic inevitably took its toll on the flow of the supply chain and in true Dachser style, the provider stepped up to the challenge, paving the way for advancements in innovation and expansion.
“This new dedicated weekly transatlantic flight service offers a solution to the current air freight capacity challenges that our customers are facing,” Frommenwiler says. “They called upon us to provide a timely, efficient transportation option to move their cargo between the U.S. and Europe in a way that allows them to properly plan and meet their deadlines.”
Market disruptions do not have to be the end of your brand–in fact, they can be the very thing that sets your services portfolio apart from the competition. At the end of the day, customers will select the logistics provider that can get the job done, maximize the bottom line and add value to the partnership. If your customer suffers, your company suffers. Offering the latest technology means nothing without measurable results, scalability and increased visibility. When thinking about how your company can best meet the needs of customers in a volatile market, start with the basics: clear communication.
Andy Frommenwiler is vice president, Air Freight USA, at Dachser.